The latest version of Microsoft's popular Office software will, the company claims, allow users to send e-mails that will expire after a set time.
How the new Office software will look
The development is designed to improve security - and avoid potentially embarrassing messages coming back to haunt senders.
Microsoft says users will also be able to restrict who is allowed to read an e-mail - and prevent recipients from forwarding messages to other users or printing them off.
The new software - known as Information Rights Management - could potentially be used by governments and companies to prevent leaks of sensitive information.
Several Wall Street analysts and bankers have been reprimanded or sacked in recent years for sending potentially incriminating electronic messages.
In the most high profile case, Merrill Lynch technology analyst Henry Blodget was forced to resign after investigators discovered he had been actively promoted stocks he privately rubbished in e-mails as "junk".
In the UK, government special adviser Jo Moore was sacked after she sent an e-mail describing 11 September 2001 as a good day to "bury" bad news.
More recently, private e-mails messages from members of the British Government and the BBC have been disclosed by the Hutton inquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly.
Microsoft says Office 2003, which is to be launched on Tuesday, will allow users to "time stamp" e-mails, ordering them to be deleted on a set date.
However, the e-mail will still be retained on the sender's computer, and in corporate networks copies would be kept on the back-up tapes of mail servers.
Destroying the e-mails completely would create legal trouble, because in the United States deleting e-mails is a federal offence, regarded in a similar light to shredding documents.
Earlier this year, brokers Morgan Stanley were fined $1.65m for failing to keep e-mail records.
The company says the deletions were an oversight, rather than a deliberate attempt to obstruct financial investigators.
Office 2003 also includes software intended to protect confidential information held in Microsoft Excel or Word programmes.
It is also designed to make it easier to read messages online, rather than printing them out, through a new viewing pane.